Fulfilling a dream
By John Klawiter, M.Div. '12
Do you ever ask kids, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Tim Mason’s answer always came easily: “I want to be a missionary!”
Now Mason is the pastor of Calvary by the Sea in Honolulu. Fulfilling that childhood dream was not as simple as continually listening to his inner child, but his path did bring him to Japan and eventually to serve Japanese people in Hawaii.
That childhood dream was begat out of a visit from Katie Clark, a missionary to Papua New Guinea, who visited his congregation in Coon Rapids, Minn. “I hung on to every word she said. She was sharing the message of her work with kids and even though I had dreams of being a pilot or a doctor, this dream of mission work was always there,” Mason said.
Mason spent 10 weeks in New Guinea before finishing his undergraduate degree. His goal was to get his Ph.D. in order to teach at a seminary or university abroad. When doors to Germany for his internship site were closed, his adviser opened another to Japan.
“I had no idea or interest in going to Japan,” Mason said, “but I had one of the best years of my life in Tokyo.”
That year taught Mason about the complexities in Japanese life and converting to Christianity. Japanese people who decide to become Christian are choosing to believe in something that is not Japanese. This is especially delicate when it involves the eldest son in a family, since much of the Shinto or Buddhist understanding of the afterlife is tied to the correct practice of the rituals at the time of death.
“If the eldest son hears the gospel and hears there is a God and the God is love, then they care for the poor and the hungry and want to become a Christian,” Mason said. “But his decision threatens the entire thread of ancestors.”
Mason notices that many people that move to Hawaii from Japan are more easily able to practice Christianity. “There is a lot of freedom to explore different expressions of faith that isn’t present in Japan,” Mason said. “The pressure is not from society; it’s from their family system. Hawaii frees up everybody to explore different things.”
Being on an island presents unique cultural challenges that the gospel helps him address. “What I’m doing with grace through Lutheran theology is the heart of what you preach in a Hawaiian culture that’s a mishmash of different religions, beliefs and values,” he said. “You stick to love, acceptance and grace. You treat people with respect because you’ll see them next week, since we’re all stuck here together on this island and there’s nowhere to run. The relationships are important and what’s respected is authenticity.”
One of the important characteristics about Calvary by the Sea is that it’s a place for people to come for healing. “This is the place where broken and rejected people come and find acceptance,” Mason said. “I don’t care what baggage they have when they arrive. They need to hear the gospel.”
Calvary by the Sea also lives the gospel by feeding people. Between 1,500-2,000 people a month come to the church’s food pantry. “Everybody is hungry, so this is our niche,” Mason said. “We also provide places to do laundry, take showers and provide legal aid. That’s a huge part of our ministry.”
Another unique feature is the congregation’s involvement in environmental stewardship. With their proximity to the ocean, they have a large invasive species of algae that they pull up and give to local farmers to use as fertilizer. They can then use that opportunity to teach kids and school groups about marine stewardship.
“We’re a welcoming place,” Mason said. “We understand that people will make a judgment within seven seconds so we have ‘tribes,’ basically ushers, who put together the sanctuary. When new people arrive, they feel welcome. That’s a huge part of our congregation that they take a lot of pride in.”
Being in Hawaii also means that people are coming and going frequently. “If people come for a few weeks, they can still be welcomed to join the choir. It’s immediate—they’re part of us. It’s one of the things I love about this place.”
Mason has embraced his life in Hawaii and his congregation has embraced him. It’s a childhood dream come true.